September 15, 2011

Why first-gen electric vehicles will be a hard sell for Canadians

Filed under: Cancon, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:24

It’s not just that (at least in Ontario) we’re facing potentially huge electricity price hikes to pay for our new alternative energy strategy, it’s also that electric cars don’t handle winter weather very well:

On Wednesday, Jan. 26 a major snowstorm hit Washington D.C. Ten-mile homeward commutes took four hours. If there had been a million electric cars on American roads at the time, every single one of them in the DC area would have ended up stranded on the side of the road, dead. And, before they ran out of power, their drivers would have been forced to turn off the heat and the headlights in a desperate effort to eek out a few more miles of range.

This illustrates the biggest drawback of BEVs, which is not range, but refueling time. A few minutes spent at a gas station will give a conventional car 300 to 400 miles of range. In contrast, it takes 20 hours to completely recharge a Nissan Leaf from 110V house current. An extra-cost 240V charger shortens this time to 8 hours. There are expensive 480V chargers that can cut this time to 4 hours, but Nissan cautions that using them very often will shorten the life of the car’s batteries.

No doubt some conventional cars ran out of gas while trapped in the massive traffic jams that occurred in and around the nation’s capital the night of January 26. However, a two-gallon can of gasoline can get a stalled conventional car moving again in a few minutes. In contrast, every dead BEV would have had to be loaded on flatbed tow truck and taken somewhere for many hours of recharging before it could be driven again.

Nissan claims that the range of a Leaf is about 100 miles. However, in their three-month extended road test, Car and Driver magazine obtained an average range from a full charge of 58 miles. Cold weather and fast driving can shorten this to as little as 30 miles.

Belgium “without a government may be remembered as an economic and political golden age”

Filed under: Europe, Government, Politics — Tags: — Nicholas @ 12:00

Doug Saunders looks at the situation in Belgium, which has gone without a government for over 450 days so far:

To look around the elegant city of Antwerp, you wouldn’t know that Belgium has now gone longer without a government than any country in modern history.

The trains still run on time, the teachers show up in their classrooms, museums are packed, taxes are collected, welfare is paid, and the country’s F-16 fighter jets are dropping bombs in Libya — even though Belgium has now gone a year and a quarter without a federal government, after the June 13, 2010 elections produced no majority and the feuding parties became locked in perpetual disagreement over coalition plans.

[. . .]

For some, this might sound like a libertarian’s idea of utopia: A country with nobody to raise taxes, or to slash spending, or to introduce major new government programs.

And indeed, Belgium has just managed, despite having only a largely powerless caretaker government, to post second-quarter economic growth rates — of 0.7 per cent — that exceeded neighbouring Germany, France and Britain. The country’s world-leading beer industry, analysts say, has remained aloft as the world drinks away its financial sorrows. And the government deficit has even been cut somewhat.

Well, it’s rather short of an anarchist’s utopia, but it’s a bit closer to a minarchist’s version. The “government” in question is, of course, the political one: the bureaucracy is still ticking over as before (one wonders if they’ve noticed the lack of politicians and their sometimes malign influence over the everyday activities of the bureaucracy).

It should be no surprise that the lack of new political initiatives has had a moderating influence on the business environment: it has reduced some of the “normal” instability of government activity. The European market and the world markets are still providing sufficient distortion and uncertainty, of course, but at least for some businesses they are not having to make business decisions with a wary eye on the current prime minister’s whim.

National Post headline funnies

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Education, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:19

The article discusses a day planner that was distributed to students at a Toronto primary school. The planner included a printed version of an online “Days of Significance” calendar that had references to sex workers, female genital mutilation and Palestinian solidarity. The board agreed with the complaint that this material was not appropriate for a kindergarten-through-grade 5 audience (although they did not say whether the planners were being withdrawn). The National Post headline, however conveys a slightly different message:

Sex workers, genital mutilation not suitable for children: TDSB

I should hope that sex work and FGM would be considered unsuitable!

Is the end of the manned fighter plane at hand?

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:08

Yes, I know we’ve gone through this discussion before (and the comment thread on that first entry is still a good summary of the counter-arguments). Air-to-air combat has become only a small part of what the air forces of the world are expected to do: ground support, while generally disdained by air force brass hats, is the most common combat task now. Here’s the state of play, according to Strategy Page, as far as the future of air combat is concerned:

The last decade has revolutionized air warfare, and air forces. This revolution was brought about by two technologies (smart bombs and UAVs) that have been around for decades but, over a decade ago, became reliable and capable enough to have a decisive effect on warfare. Now UAVs armed with smart bombs are poised to replace manned aircraft. Moreover, the proliferation of GPS guided weapons and short range guided missiles have greatly reduced the need for ground strikes by manned or unmanned aircraft. Since World War II, air forces have demanded, and obtained, a disproportionate share of military budgets. No more.

[. . .]

Underlying all of this is the appearance of so many cheaper, reliable, precision weapons in the last decade. This has changed tactics on the ground. While the air force doesn’t like to dwell on this, it’s the war on the ground that is decisive, not what’s going on in the air. This proliferation of precision has also changed the way smart bombs were designed. With the ability to put a weapon within a meter of the aiming point (using laser guidance) or 5-10 meters (using GPS), smaller is now better, at least in urban areas where there are a lot of civilians about, troops have changed the way they fight. There is more movement in urban warfare because of all this precision firepower, and fewer friendly fire casualties from bombs and artillery. But it’s not just the air force and their smart bombs that have brought this on. The army had precision missiles on the ground long before JDAM came along. Now the army has more of them. Thus, over the last five years, there has been a competition between the army and air force to develop smaller, cheaper and more precise, missiles and bombs.

[. . .]

The air force is not happy about the army having a large force of armed UAVs. Many air force generals believe the army should not have the MQ-1C, or at least not use them with weapons. That has already caused some spats in the Pentagon over the issue, but so far the army has prevailed.

The army argument is that these larger UAVs work better for them if they are under the direct control of combat brigades. The air force sees that as inefficient, and would prefer to have one large pool of larger UAVs, that could be deployed as needed. This difference of opinion reflects basic differences in how the army and air force deploy and use their combat forces. The army has found that a critical factor in battlefield success is teamwork among members of a unit, and subordinate units in a brigade. While the air force accepts this as a critical performance issue for their aircraft squadrons, they deem it irrelevant for army use of UAVs. Seeing army MQ-1Cs doing visual and electronic reconnaissance and firing missiles at ground targets, the air force sees itself losing control of missions it has dominated since its founding in 1948.

[. . .]

Meanwhile, the navy has taken the lead in developing larger, jet propelled UAVs like the 15 ton, X-47B. This UAV uses a F100-PW-220 engine, which is currently used in the F-16 and F-15. The X-47B can carry two tons of bombs or missiles and maneuver like a jet fighter. The X-47B is fast and agile enough to carry out air-to-air missions. With the right software, it can do this autonomously (without human intervention). This is being worked on, and the navy already has perfected the software that enables a UAV to land on aircraft carriers.

The coming decade will see more and more UAVs replacing manned aircraft. Thus after only a century in action, manned combat aircraft are on their way out.

Johann Hari, sockpuppet master

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:39

An interesting post at Velvet Glove, Iron Fist details the many, many Wikipedia sockpuppets under the control of Independent journalist Johann Hari:

Johann Hari, the plagiarist and liar, has been allowed to keep working at the Independent despite being caught bang to rights as a fraudulent troll. I was barely aware of this fellow’s existence until his journalistic techniques were exposed a few months ago. They should have been enough to get him sacked. Instead, the Independent have let him off with a whining, self-serving apology.

More interesting than the shoddy journalism is the Wikipedia trolling. Rumours have abounded for some time that ‘David Rose’ — Hari’s number one fan on the internet — is Hari himself. This has now been confirmed by the bubonic plagiarist. He operated several sockpuppets on Wikipedia to make himself out to be, as Nick Cohen put it, “one of the essential writers of our time”. More seriously, he has also persistently edited the Wiki pages of people he dislikes, including Cohen, with libellous glee. This, too, is not a sackable offence at the Independent.

Nothing is deleted on Wikipedia and the entries of David Rose (or ‘David r from meth productions’) stand as a testimony to the extraordinary scale and range of Hari’s six year trolling campaign. Certain themes emerge. Much of his time was spent emphasising his own importance as a major cultural figure. He pushes to have his every award and nomination put centre stage. As a left-wing journalist, he is eager to downplay his privileged education. He consistently edits the pages of his heroes such as Polly Toynbee and George Monbiot to portray them in their best light. He repeatedly edits his enemies to make them look like racists, or thugs, or loonies.

H/T to James Delingpole for the link.

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